Sunday, October 10, 2010

What is Going on in Oman?

There have been a few developments of the past few weeks here in Oman. I wonder what other expats think of them, and what it says about the direction of this country...

1. Students are no longer allowed to wear jeans for fear of "errosion of national identity".

2. All Ministry of Education foreign teachers will be terminated after 6 years.

3. Fitness centers (like my Horizon Gym) no longer allow men and women to work-out at the same time...

4. You can no longer eat rice outdoors if there is smoking of any kind in the vicinity. (note that Omanis always eat this actually presents a big dilemma for would be al fresco diners in this country...)

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The News, continued...

My point in my last blog was not at all to glorify all Muslims, so telling me to read news articles about Muslims doing bad things is not a counter argument.

There are indeed bad Muslims....but there are also bad Christians, bad Jews, bad Hindus, bad athiests, bad aborigenies, bad all sorts of people.

Discriminating against a group of people based on a minority is NEVER a good idea. This goes for Muslims now in the post-9/11 world.

But it also goes for all other groups of people. For example, Muslims should not hate all Jews and demonize all Jews because some Jews hurt them.

Blacks should not hate all Christians because the KKK did horrible things to them.

Whites in America should not hate all blacks because of bad experiences with a few gangs.

You get my point?

Chances are that the Ground Zero Mosque would in fact be for American Muslims a place of peace and hope, not of continuted triumph over the western infidels.

Monday, September 13, 2010

الاخبار The News

Sometime in 2007, I stopped reading the news.

Before then, I used to read the New York Times front section cover to cover every day. Maybe I thought that if I new enough, I could save the world. Then one day, something snapped, and I got so frustrated with the idiocy of it all, that I stopped reading all together.

Everything I read just seemed to reconfirm what I already knew about the policies of the US government, about anti-Islamic sentiment, about radical Islam, about Gitmo, about how the US is causing even more disaster in war zones it either created or exacerbated.

I just got fed-up.

I live in the Middle East now. I work with Omanis and other Arab nationalities every day. I'm friends with Muslims. I hear the call to prayer 5 times a day. My neighbors are Muslims.

And the news just seems so foreign to me.

It's really hard for me to even read an article about the scandal over the building of a mosque by Ground Zero. I just can't comprehend people who have the ability to twist reality so much in their heads to think that Muslims would consider the Ground Zero mosque another stab at the American people. Like it was rubbing in their triumph of 9/11. (of course the same sort of demonizing, reality-twisting has been happening throughout all of history to different groups of people...)

Whether they are right-wing Republicans, single-issue Democrats who get scared of Muslims, conservative Christians, fundamentalist Jews, westernized Muslims...I don't care....anyone who makes a decision about a group of people without knowing them, or who makes a decision about a group based on a tiny minority, don't deserve my, or anyone's, time.

I did actually read the news today, an article largely about wide-spread American anti-Islamic sentiment.

And the best thing in the article was a quote by Reverend Richard Cizik. My own personal Christian upbringing, and lifetime of being around conservative Christians (often very anti-Muslim) makes me particularly sensitive to and annoyed by Christian denunciation of Islam and Muslims. So I like this quote by Rev. Cizik to people who put down our (meaning humankind's) Muslim brothers:

“Shame on you, you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbor.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Iftar Fever

A little background: Iftar is the fast-breaking meal at sundown for Muslims during Ramadan. From sun up to sun down, they are not supposed to eat, drink (even a sip of water), have sex, smoke cigarettes, etc. Some even argue that sex and smoking shouldn't happen at all the whole month long....why those two are on the same par I don't know...


Iftar is, of course, a religiously and socially very important meal. Muslims across the world break fast by eating dates, as was the tradition in the Prophet's day. After that, a lavish meal is served, the cuisine depending on the cultural background of the family.

Some iftars are more sumptuous than others, but everywhere, it is an event. Non-Muslims are often invited by Muslim friends to share the iftar meal with their families. It's a great experience for non-Muslims, and they needn't feel shy about being the "odd-one-out". Every Muslim family that I have known is fully aware that you, as a non-Mulsim are not fasting and probably don't know their traditions. So if you're invited, definitely go.

However...a word of warning...

Iftar is not for non-fasters.

After indulging in an endless feast that lasts for hours, your body will feel the bulge, even if you have in fact fasted all day. But if you have gone about your normal day, eating breakfast, and apple here or there, lunch, a latte and croissant from Starbucks..before going to an iftar probably experience what I call "Iftar Fever".

I think the body rebels, screaming that it simply lacks the ability to process that much food all at once, on top of a full day's eating. Unless your digestive track is made of steel, the food will sit there, motionless in your stomach for upwards of 24 hours. You will wake up in the morning and feel like you just ate 10 minutes ago. The back of your neck and forehead will sweat, and your appetite will be nowhere to found for disturbingly long.

So just go easy. Resist grandmother's demands that you eat more and more of the first course when you have 7 more to come. And don't forget about the juice. And post-course palate cleansers, the sweets, and ritual nibbles that you just can't turn down.

Go, feast, enjoy, but beware the fever that follows. In fact, next time I get invited to an iftar meal, I'm going to give 100% and particpate in the fast too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hating Expats?

Yesterday, "anonymous" posted a comment that I found really interesting. It's a follow up to the comment about the joke among expats:
Q: What's the difference between and expat and a racist?
A: About three weeks...

To turn it around, "anonymous" (same one or different?) wrote this:
"Injustice,stigma and discrimination against expats, which is institutionalised in Oman. Hence, an average expat is "perceived" racist by Omanis in the spirit of blaming expats for every ill of Omani society."

I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but it's a very interesting topic, that definitely has some truth to it. Do Omanis hate expats? I think there are two totally different sides to this. There are some Omanis who do indeed blame expats for causing many problems in Omani society. There are also the Omanis who idolize expats (the western ones) and seek them out intentionally. Then of course there is everyone inbetween, as there always is.

But let's take a look at the 2 extremes:

Expat Haters--There are Omanis who look upon expats (western and eastern) as the source of depravity in Omani society and distortion of Omani culture. I've been there. I've been told to my face that I am making Omani women impure and am leading them to be perverted like women in my culture. The entire population of Oman (you find figures anywhere from 2.5 to 4 million) is only about 70% Omani (again, very difficult to find consistent census data). That means there is, in fact, a decently large foreign influence of the people in Oman (particularly in Muscat), although this does not even compare to the UAE, where the Emirati population is closer to 10% of the total.
Nevertheless, the distain for westerners as poluters of the true Omani culture and heritage is not as prevelant as it could be. I think most Omanis, even those who would prefer a pure Omani nation, can accept that Oman just would not be where it is today in terms of development and progress if it were not for the influx of western companies and investments, which of course bring people along with them. There are those Omanis who would rather be undeveloped than have western influence, but I think there are very few who actively blame westerns for the ills of Omani society and who would bring that sentiment to the table when forced to deal with them.

Expat Lovers--Now this is even more interesting, in my opinion. I would say the the majority of this brand of Omanis lives primarily in Muscat and are generally well-educated and wealthy. Many Omanis (although, again, not as much as in other Gulf nations)enjoy the "bling" that comes along with western-style development. Cell phones are everyone. Many men own more than one for their differnt category of contacts. One for the family, one for the shabaab, one for work, and maybe one for the girlfriend. Gucci, D&G, and Armani all make abayas, or at least you can find knock-off labels to sew onto them. It's hip, even de rigeur in some circles, to be western in certain elements of style.

Now most Omanis, men and women, who sport this western bling do not necessarily associate it with being western as such. It's just the popular style. The thought process often doesn't go much farther than that. The hypocrisy of buying an Armani-designed garment which generated from one of the most conservative streams of Saudi Islam...doesn't cross their minds.
Nevertheless, there are Omanis, mostly men because they have the most freedom to circulate in a variety of social groups, who actively seek out friendships, and of course business partnerships, with westerns. They pride themselves on being remarkably open-minded and accepting of other cultural mores and customs. And a lot of the time, they are. You can see them sitting in cafes, with western men, or even with each other, most talking in English...just to show they can roll.
In any case, they definitely don't hate westerns. (They still might not want their wives and daughters hanging around men though...)

Enough for now. Let me know what you think. What has been your experience, for my expat readers? And for my Omani readers...what do you think about all this?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cheerful Indians

Have you ever wondered what makes so many of the Indian (and I really mean Indian in particular, even moreso then Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi..) laborers here so smiley? I've noticed it before, but it isn't until the last few days that it's really struck me. The Indian workers here at my new job (whether highly-educated professionals, chauffeurs, or toilet cleaners) are all invariably cheerful.

Why is that? Some of them get paid a generous salary that could easily support a family here in Muscat (the professionals) but the vast majority of them get paid pitance. Granted, it's more than they would likely get in their own country doing the same or even higher level work. But...they certainly aren't living in luxury.

I've spoken in particular to three Indians here at my work about their family situaion as well. One was a professional, one a transport driver, one a cleaner. All three of them have their spouse and children living back in India. They haven't seen them for months and maybe only see them twice a year if lucky. And yet, they are happy, and polite, and have genuine smiles spread across their faces.

I just spend the summer away from my fiance and that was hard is hard to imagine doing that with children added to the equation. Am I just spoiled? Having what I want when I want it? Do I have a higher standard of what is acceptable, in life-style and relationships? I don't know. But I also don't know how they do it.

I would be fascinated to read research about specific cultural influence on mood and life satisfaction levels. If I were in their place (and I think this goes for a lot of people), I would be miserable.

How do they stay happy?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Moving to the Big City

I arrived back in Oman this week, and am finally living in Muscat. For some reason, the weather isn't as blisteringly hot as I expected. This is my third Omani summer and I think I might actually be getting used to the 50 degree weather, as impossible as that sounds. In any case, it's great to be back.

While I was away on holiday, I realized that Oman sort of feels like home now. I missed my flat here, my friends, and even just Oman. I never thought I would feel homesick for Oman, but maybe this means I've finally graduated to being a real dyed-in-the-wool expat.

I've started a new job as well, and am relieved that the environment is professional, cheerful and delightfully not insane. If you've read my previous posts about my work and a particular few of my anonymous colleauges at Rustaq College, you know what I'm talking about. No doubt this job as any will have it's pitfalls, but I so happy to be in a professional, efficent and friendly environment. It's tough to find that here.

Although even in the three days I've been back in the country, I've already had several of those "God, I hate this country!" moments, overall, being away really made me appreciate a lot about this place. The people are friendly, life is calm. the beach is always 10 minutes away, and being late isn't a crime. While there is plenty to frustrate you, especially during Ramadan for non-Muslims, this place really isn't so bad....

....of course, however, in the weeks and months to come I'll do plenty of complaining. Maybe Muscat and I are just in our honeymoon phase. We'll see how long it lasts before we get sick of each other.